Indie music veteran PJ Harvey adopts the same approach to film making as she does her music.
In the studio and on stage she is fearless, passionate and provocative and the same attributes shine through in her big screen feature A Dog Called Money, recently screened at Revelation Perth International Film Festival.
From the opening sequences showing people in Kabul being frisked entering a cinema and the voiceover announcing “there was once a time when entry to the cinema could be attained in exchange for bullets”, it is apparent this is no paint-by-numbers music doco.
Documenting PJ Harvey’s creative journey for her album The Hope Six Demolition Project, director Seamus Murphy follows the singer’s journeys to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington DC, as she seeks inspiration from the worlds she travels to and the people she meets and talks to.
Curiously, the film is equal parts National Discovery-type travel doc and a “making of the album” video.
There is more showing than telling in this doc. When we see images from Kabul and Kosovo, the viewer is not given too much by way of exposition. Harvey is often seen pacing close to her subjects, notebook in hand, looking but not speaking.
We do see her have a few very warm interactions with the subjects but for the most part she is an observer.
Instead of an omniscient narrator telling the tale, most often we hear Harvey’s poetry accompanying the imagery and this gives it an at times dreamy, timeless quality. We see an old woman walking alone through a bombed out Kosovo carrying two keys on a chain accompanied by some lines about how she would seek revenge on those who killed her family members. We don’t know what the keys are or who murdered who but Harvey’s poetry enables the mind to wander.
Back in London, the recording of the album becomes an art work in itself, transpiring behind one-way glass that enables the public to watch the creative processes. Those left to watch this unique art installation sometimes look curious, very bored and even mystified, which is to say not all art has an avid audience.
However for the cinema viewer, as fly on the wall, following the musician as she writes and records with her band is quite something to behold. Harvey is super encouraging of the musos around her – she directs, but never dictates. Particularly pleasing to watch is a lengthy bluesy sax solo and Harvey’s joyous reaction to the virtuoso playing.
Nick Cave fans will revel in watching former Bad Seed Mick Harvey (no relation) bashing out a pulsating punk infused solo on his Fender Jaguar and then his follow up comment “I think it sounded European” – as clearly that was his brief from PJ.
Harvey also shows off her own musical and song writing chops. We see her playing drums, harmonic, a hurdy gurdy and several other instrument throughout, and amusingly only failing at one tiny little mouth played instrument that to the uninitiated looked simple enough.
This is an enjoyable look at the creative process and one of Britain’s most revered independent voices and anyone with a passion for music and in particular the work of Ms Polly Jean Harvey would find it very engaging.
Rev continues until July 17. For details: www.revelationfilmfest.org